I have spent most of my professional life (over 20 years) working for, in support of and in collaboration with programs that functioned to support primary & secondary school-aged kids, parents & teachers. In this capacity, I have seen booms & busts in funding, priorities shifting from one collective program we thought would ‘save our kids’ or ‘leave no child behind’ for so long I find the whole discussion depressing most of the time. My mother, father and even three of my four grandparents worked in our California schools before I did … a family tradition I am proud to continue.
But people like me have been researching and suggesting for many years, long before the tablet revolution, that teachers need support, not materials … nothing matters more than preparing the people who spend all day long with our kids. In this excellent piece from a decade ago, by Sam Carlson, we find the situation has hardly improved (if not gotten worse for educators since 2002): The Missing Link in Educational Technology: Trained Teachers But what can we do about it?
There is one fundamental way we can support our schools that I find is often missing from the equation when we debate funding priorities, and that is supporting teachers through training. It is one of the least expensive, most valuable ways to spend our educational dollars in my opinion. But we cannot expect teachers unions, principals, PTAs and other groups to make this a priority without our help. Parents need to step up … we can put pressure on these institutions (as well as our local school boards) and offer our support.
It is not about throwing money at our schools or giving every child or teacher an iPad … it is about teaching both kids AND educators how to manipulate this new technical landscape for learning. As parents, we may think we don’t know as much as our child’s teacher, but we can offer a lot more as volunteers than we realize. Please … don’t wait to be asked to volunteer in your child’s school. You may be surprised at how much you can do if you make yourself available. Even if you don’t have kids … technologically savvy adults willing to work in our schools are desperately needed. We don’t need to wait for ‘funding’ … most of us have some spare time we can manage to share, if only we knew where to plug into our communities with that knowledge.
In fact, think of JFK when you think of your child’s school … ask not what your school can do for your child, but instead, ask what you can do for your child’s school … so it can serve your community. Parents are the primary teachers of children but schools are the primary foundation of our educated communities and our source of communal values. If Johnny can’t read, we can blame parents, schools and anyone else we’d like, but in reality, when Johnny can’t read, and then begins to steal (or make other mischief) we all lose. When amazing teachers leave for better paying professions it is not often because of money, but job satisfaction, support and other issues like benefits. Make it a welcome, supportive place and bright students will still flock to teaching … it is deeply satisfying work if we set it up properly.
In my experience as a social worker, even the poorest communities find their children over-exposed to technology, media, apps & more … there is no economic protection from the massive dump of video games and apps that parents have seen their children wade through in recent years. In fact, children from lower-income communities just seem to get less supervision in this wading pool of technology, not less technological ‘water’ (so to speak). We all just see different aspects of the ‘dump’ … but as parents we struggle in the same ways, trying to pick what is good and what is decent out from the garbage in our environment.
This is where the dedicated teachers who want training come in … but we need to provide it more readily. The adults savvy in technology already exist in most of our communities, they just need to be motivated to volunteer and given ways to contribute. The capacity exists already, but we need to be ready to tap into it within each of our individual communities. I’m ready to put my energy into this endeavor … are you? And if not, can we afford to neglect this aspect of our children’s education? We need to consider teachers’ re-training needs as much as those of professionals in other fields. This whole field of technology and education is moving so fast it makes my head spin … and I blog about it all day long.
The impact of all this media is very apparent in our kids’ behavior, values and attitudes, too, so it is vital for all of us to have a bit more foundation than the kids we parent & teach. Parents and teachers need and deserve high-tech training to keep up. Have you ever wondered how your kids’ teacher feels? Ask them and other school staff, find out what your school is doing to help teachers become better prepared … and if they aren’t doing enough, consider volunteering your own time and expertise. Push your PTA, school district, school board, etc. to consider putting teacher training ahead of device purchases, too. Even a community workshop to discuss the issue with other parents can be helpful; you don’t have to be a trained ‘expert’ anymore to be an expert in new technology … you just have to be willing to explore and engage.
As parents, we often like to complain about our schools, vote to change them or cut the taxes that fund them, but we are part of the problem or the solution … we can’t be on the sidelines. I could send my child to a private school in a heartbeat (or homeschool him), but as a product of public schools from Pre-K through graduate school, I believe that this is not the answer … we are a community, whether we like it or not. I choose to invest through time, money and any other resources I can muster to dedicate to our next generation. My child will probably marry one of the kids he goes to school with … I hope he or she gets as good an education as my son does, because these will be the adults who raise my grandchildren.
There is so much discussion of educational technology, but nowhere near enough real dialogue and thoughtful consideration of how to adapt our existing institutions to this new era. It doesn’t have to be depressing though … as a parent, an educational advocate and somewhat tech-savvy adult, I find it exciting and necessary to weigh in on this debate. Social media is supposed to break down barriers to engagement … why not push this revolution a bit further by volunteering in a school in your own community (off-line) … you’ll feel better at the end of the day, I promise!
Have a story to share about educational technology, volunteering or ways to improve our schools? I’d love to hear your thoughts …